It is no secret that poverty creates a significant obstacle to equality in the US. Children of poverty are so weighed down by legitimate real-world concerns that it is difficult for them to focus on school work or study and they are more likely to change schools frequently if they are able to attend at all. For many children living in extreme poverty, government programs may provide their only way out. Government programs have the ability to provide basic necessities like food, clothing, and shelter. Having their family’s basic needs met can help them get a basic education, which in turn can lead to a college degree and a way out of poverty.

Conversely, however, government programs are almost always designed and run by those who are civically engaged. Unfortunately, people living in poverty – or those that are the most dependent on government programs – also tend to be the least civically engaged. In fact, according to Census data, America’s poorest families (those with incomes less than $15,000) voted at barely half the rate of the wealthiest families (those with incomes over $75,000) in the 2004 presidential election. In spite of the youth vote reaching a record high in 2008, data also shows that youth with some college education were nearly twice as likely to vote as those without any. (62% to 36%)

Studies have also shown that students who are more civically engaged tend to exhibit better academic performance and are more motivated to take action on issues they care about. The more civically engaged children are, the better they understand real-world issues. The better they understand these real-world issues, the more prepared they are to tackle them in the future. Early civic engagement also gives them hope of being able to create real change.

Studies show that politicians pay little to no attention to the nation’s poorest citizens. The very people most affected by national political issues like health insurance reform and unemployment are the least likely to be heard. In many cases, government programs designed by the most affluent citizens (those most likely to be politically engaged) also fail to actually meet the most pressing needs of the impoverished because you can’t fix a problem you don’t genuinely understand. The people that do understand have no voice. In order to create a better future, it is vitally important for today’s most impoverished youth to become civically engaged.

Originally published at on February 20, 2019.